My pedagogical research interests are focused on a main theme of facilitating scientific literacy and translational skill development of undergraduate students. I have approached this goal via through the engagement of undergraduate students in blended and online learning and scientific discussions via social media platforms and through the discipline-related mentoring of undergraduate students in the laboratory. Both research directions involve the direct supervision of students in team-based projects that are directed towards publishable manuscripts that are co-authored amongst all student participants. Having been one of the faculty leads towards the implementation of Blended and Online Learning in the Faculty of Science at McMaster, I am currently carrying out a comprehensive study evaluating the efficacy of Blended Learning in a first year Cell and Molecular Biology classroom. A more broad pedagogical research interest of mine has been the measurement of student reflections and course-related outcomes as self-reported in the McMaster Learning Portfolio database. It is through this type of an analysis that it will be possible to identify the academic and professional development of our students and their ultimate career action plans. Further details are outlined below.
Horizontal Curriculum Integration within a Biology Program
McMaster MacPherson Institute Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellow (2018-present)
- While students who graduate from McMaster having completed one of the biology programs will have attained most of the 41 PLOs formally developed by the Department, it is not known to what degree students are able to integrate their knowledge across courses within their program. With a commitment to improve student learning, success and attainment of program-level PLOs, this LTL project will implement horizontal curriculum integration between courses at the third year level in the Department of Biology. Specifically, this project will involve students within two programs: Molecular Biology & Genetics and Physiology.
- A secondary interest of this project is to investigate the psychosocial impact that a reduced assignment load may have on student performance and overall stress perception. With the implementation of effective crossover assignments that are targeted to strengthen horizontal curriculum integration, this project also has the potential to reduce the number of assignments that students are tasked with completing throughout any academic session.
- This project will be broken down into two phases. The first phase will involve the implementation of horizontal curriculum integration between 2-3 courses that are common to students that are enrolled at the third year level in either the Molecular Biology & Genetics or Physiology programs. This will be accomplished by mapping the curriculum of each course, and identifying areas that can be built upon, and most importantly, identifying themes that intersect between courses. Crossover assignments will then be designed around these identified themes, and will integrate topics from both courses to answer a bigger and more applied question. These types of assignments will be designed using the PBL approach. Students will work in groups to complete these crossover assignments, and the grade attained will then be allocated in parts or as a whole towards the final student grade in each respective course. Course tests will also incorporate questions that bridges concepts across courses in order to further strengthen horizontal curriculum integration and critical thinking rather than simple recall of knowledge.
- The second phase of this project will evaluate the impact of horizontal curriculum integration between these courses. This will involve the surveying of students for reflective perspectives, and a quantitative approach that will evaluate the effect of horizontal curriculum integration on program learning outcomes and perceived stress.
Assessing the Outcomes of Blended Learning in a Level I Biology Course
McMaster MacPherson Institute Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellow (2015-present)
- The advent of online learning in recent years has increasingly made course material conveniently available to students. It is important to consider however, how online learning resources, when combined with meaningful and effective in-class experiences can influence the learning outcomes of students.
- The Department of Biology has implemented the Blended Learning approach in its first year Cell and Molecular Biology (BIO1A03) course since Spring 2014, and has since offered the course in the same format every Fall, Winter and Spring term. This course currently serves approximately 1500 across the Faculty of Science per academic year, and introduces students to the fundamental concepts of Cellular and Molecular Biology.
- Now that the course is up and running, we have evaluated the effectiveness of this model on student perceptions of learning, and also on the outcomes of student performance throughout the course. The research question for this Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowship was to identify, “Does Blended Learning enhance a student’s scientific literacy in a first year Cellular and Molecular Biology course in the areas of knowledge & understanding, communication & application and critical thinking & inquiry?” To evaluate student perspectives, research was conducted in collaboration with the McMaster MacPherson Institute and work-study students/scholars to survey students across multiple BIO1A03 course offerings during year 1 and 2 of the study. The overall goal of this research project was to analyze the effectiveness of BIO1A03 Blended Learning instructional platform in transforming our students from surface to deep-learners, ready for life-long inquiry-driven learning.
- A quantitative approach was also utilized to evaluate the effectiveness of the Blended Learning approach in BIO1A03 on promoting scientific literacy in the area of knowledge & understanding, communication & application and critical thinking & inquiry. This part of the project required data collection from previous and current offerings of BIO1A03 pertaining to students’ performance in various tested components of the course. In particular, work-study students/scholars worked with the BIO1A03 teaching team to partition test questions from previous non-Blended Learning BIO1A03 course offering years into the three categories of knowledge & understanding, communication & application, and critical thinking & inquiry. The same was done with tests from the current Blended Learning BIO1A03 course offerings. All student data was depersonalized and the scores and overall performance of students who were in non-Blended BIO1A03 cohorts were compared with those of students who are in Blended Learning cohorts since the Spring of 2014. It is through these measures that we have evaluated that Blended Learning is indeed a transformational teaching tool that is effective in promoting scientific literacy in the areas of knowledge & understanding, communication & application and critical thinking & inquiry in first year Cellular and Molecular Biology students.
- We are currently in preparation of a manuscript that will report the results of our findings with research students Irtaza Tahir (Hons. Life Sciences), Victoria Radauskas (Arts and Sciences), Victoria Van Mierlo (Hons. Biology), Wayne Yeung (Hons. Biology & Pharmacology) and Alastair Tracey (Undergraduate Course Coordinator and Co-Investigator)
Social Media and Technological Teaching Tools in the Science Classroom
- Social media continues to play an increasing role in student engagement in the classroom. Past studies have reviewed student and faculty viewpoints on the use and implementation of social media in the classroom, but few studies have empirical data on the benefits or drawbacks of integrating social media in higher-level education. Furthermore, the few studies that have empirical data mandate the use of social media as a part of course marking schemes.
- In collaboration with Giuliana Guarna (BIO4F06 student), we have completed a research project (implemented in the LifeSci3A03 course) that evaluated the effectiveness of the use of social media in the classroom environment in a manner that was not reflected in student grades. Our social media intervention aimed to engage students in a science community outside the classroom where they could share resources, ask questions, and engage in dialogue with other students and faculty. By bringing the conversations to Twitter we opened the conversation up to the global science community, as opposed to a closed University-specific discussion that may take place over Avenue2Learn or a closed Facebook group. Twitter updates from our end followed defined themes so students knew what content to expect in lectures and tutorials during the week. For example, we would encourage students to follow Twitter accounts of scientific journals or research labs that were relevant to the material that was covered in class. In return, many prestigious journals began to follow and contribute to our twitter feed discussions, thus highlighting how the use of social media in the classroom can connect students to the global community.
- The overall goal of this social media initiative was to challenge students to share the theoretical knowledge they acquire in the classroom to the broader research community and ultimately support the development of translational communication skills of our students through the non-classical dissemination of scientific literature and information.
- This is a McMaster Research Ethics Board approved research project, and we plan to submit the results from this study for publication.
- Follow up research included collaborating with Lauren Tabone (BIO4C09 student) to explore the use of exploring of the use of social media and technological teaching tools in the high school science classroom as a means of developing scientific literacy in pre-university students. Results of this study will also be submitted for publication.
Establishing a Meta-analysis based Learning Portfolio database
McMaster MacPherson Institute Learning Portfolio Fellow (2014-2016)
- The Learning Portfolio is a tool that enables students to track their progress in their academic and non-academic learning experiences. While students are able to formulate a career action plan through reflection on academic and non-academic learning experiences, some students are currently limited within the Learning Portfolio in terms of collaboration and peer-to-peer mentoring.
- My research project proposes to establish a meta-analysis based Learning Portfolio database that will analyze current portfolios and capture quantitative metrics pertaining to the courses, experiential placements, volunteer opportunities, and extracurricular opportunities experienced by students pursuing various programs and career paths. This will contribute greatly towards undergraduate curriculum and program development, and will also facilitate the development of a database of Alumni who can be potential mentors in various Career and Co-operative Education offices at McMaster University.
- This research is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Andrew McArthur, Associate Professor and Cisco Chair in Bioinformatics in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster. This project was funded by the FWI Fund.
- This is a McMaster Research Ethics Board approved research project. We are currently also in the process of preparing a SSHRC grant to continue with the research.
Discipline-related undergraduate mentoring research:
Learning with Model Organisms-The McMaster Stink Bug Project (2014-present)
- Learning with Model Organisms-The McMaster Stink Bug Project
- There are many characteristics of model organisms that make them beneficial for use in undergraduate teaching and independent research projects. One such model organism is the invasive brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), a major agricultural pest that is rapidly spreading throughout North America and Europe. I have recently established an undergraduate-driven research program in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University, investigating the integrated cardiovascular and immune physiological processes of these stink bugs. Discoveries made through these projects will not only contribute towards possible pest control strategies but will most importantly provide undergraduate students with more opportunities for applied, discipline-related research activities and research opportunities in the Faculty of Science.
- Each season, we collect stink bugs from the greater Hamilton region and allow undergraduate students involved in the project to care for the growing colony.
- In addition to mentoring experiential placement students, I will am able to supervise 5-10 undergraduate research students per academic year on the stink bug project in the Applied Learning Lab for Undergraduate Research Excellence (ALLURE).
- While I have attained internal funding to sustain this undergraduate discipline-related research mentoring of undergraduate students, I have also applied for (and will continue to apply for) external funding from government and industrial organizations (i.e. NSERC, Grain Farmers, OMAFRA)
- The ultimate goal of this long-term program is to contribute to the development of students in the Faculty of Science at McMaster as integrative scholars with the understanding that knowledge is not just learned, but is acquired through authentic hands-on, project-based discovery. This will result in peer-reviewed publications co-authored by the undergraduate student researchers, in addition to collaborations with internal and external academic and industrial partners.
- We are currently in preparation of our first manuscript with research students Irtaza Tahir (Hons. Life Sciences), Ryan Peters and Victoria Radauskas (Arts and Sciences) in collaboration with Dr. Angela B. Lange (University of Toronto)